Language as She is Spoke
Some general notes about language: a speaker who wishes to relay the words
of another has several ways of doing so, none of them illegitimate, dishonest
or contradictory. There is direct quotation: 'She said, "You are to
go to the store."' There is indirect quotation: 'She said for you
to go to the store.' A speaker may paraphrase or summarize without, normally,
being suspected of a crime. If the speaker quoted used a foreign language,
it will be necessary to translate; and two translators, acting in perfect
good faith, can employ different words. If speakers of the two languages
also use different methods of reckoning time, the translator may find it
necessary to recast the time-language to avoid misunderstanding.
The Second Cock Crow: Dawn
Most of us count one cock crow: at dawn. But the Romans counted at least
two. It's the "second" cock-crow which resounds at dawn:
"He may shut the windows, cover
cracks with curtains, lock
The doors, douse the light, make
everyone leave, let no one sleep
Near at hand: but before the dawn the
Will know what he was doing at second
cock crow, will hear
Also what his chief cooks and carvers
invented." (Juvenal, Satires, IX, 105-109)
Some centuries later, Synesius of Cyrene's ship ran aground at the second cock-crow, evidently dawn:
"Contrary to all prevision we had shaken off the rapacious violence of our enforced run, and we carried along during a day and a night, and at the second crowing of the cock, before we knew it, behold we were on a sharp reef which ran out from the land like a short peninsula." (Synesius of Cyrene, Letter 4).
The pagan revert Julian offered sacrifice at the second cock-crowing, evidently dawn:
"Finally, on a previously appointed festal day, he ascended Mount
Casius, a wooded hill rising on high with a rounded contour, from which
at the second cock-crow [secundis galliciniis] the sun is first seen to rise. (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman Antiquities, Book XXII, 14.4).
The First: Dead of Night
If the "second cock crow" is dawn, then when is the first? The
middle of the night. One of the guests at Trimalchio's dinner tells a werewolf
"It so happened that our master had gone to Capua to attend to some odds and ends
of business and I seized the opportunity, and persuaded a guest of the house to accompany me as far
as the fifth mile-stone. He was a soldier, and as brave as the very devil. We set out about cock-crow,
the moon was shining as bright as midday, and came to where the tombstones are...Was ever anyone nearer dead
from fright than me? Then I whipped out my sword and cut every shadow along the road to bits, till I came
to the house of my mistress...My Melissa wondered why I was out so late. "Oh, if you'd only come sooner," she said, "you could have helped us"...I couldn't keep my eyes shut any longer when I heard that, and as soon as it grew light, I rushed back to our Gaius' house like an innkeeper beaten out of his bill, and when I came to the place where the clothes had been turned into stone, there was nothing but a pool of blood!" (Petronius, Satyricon, Volume 2, The Dinner of Trimalchio, Chapter 62).
Notice, please, they leave "about cock-crow," he has time to watch his companion turn into
a werewolf at the cemetery, he has time after that to get to his girl-friend's house, she wonders why he was "out so late," and then, unable to sleep, he rushes back home "as soon as it grew light." Manifestly, "cock-crow" is not dawn but sometime during the
dark of the night. This was the first cock-crow. The second cock-crow resounded at dawn.
The antiquarian Macrobius fixes cock-crow, in the Roman "civil
day," at some time after midnight but before first light:
"The divisions of the civil day are these: first, 'the middle turning point
of the night;' then 'cock crow;' after that, 'the silence,' when the
cocks are silent and men are still asleep; then 'first light,' when day
becomes discernible; after that, 'morning,' when the light of day is clear."
(Macrobius, The Saturnalia, Book I, Chapter 3:12)
What is Jesus likely to have said: 'second cock-crow,' meaning dawn, or 'cock-crow,'
meaning dawn? Most people on this earth do not count two cock-crows, though the Romans did.
(As will be seen, the Talmud counts up to three
cock crows, but without sufficient context to distinguish simple iterations from different watches.)
Opinions differ, but it seems very likely to me that He said
'cock-crow,' meaning dawn, which is how the great mass of humanity have
heard the rooster's daily alarm clock. The Romans were somewhat eccentric
in 'hearing' the rooster crow loudest at night: "But the cock is
wont to utter loud chants in the deeper hours of the night; but,
when the time of morning is already at hand, he frames small and
slender tones. . ." (Gregory the Great, the Book of Pastoral Rule,
Part III, Chapter 39, p. 628, PNF 2:12).
Tradition suggests the Gospel of Mark was written for a Roman
readership: "Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel
at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter
tell." (Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Chapter 8). Several characteristics of this gospel mesh with this
expectation. All of the evangelists portray Jesus as an itinerant
exorcist, but Mark is much more interested in this aspect of His
activity than are the others. Why? The population density of demons
is not the same all over. Rome is the haunt of demons: "And he cried
mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen,
is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of
every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."
(Revelation 18:2). Thus, "The many instances of exorcism in the gospels are
evidence of the dynamic power of Jesus over the spiritual adversaries."
(Donald Guthrie, A Shorter Life of Christ, p. 147). A missionary to pagan India interacts with people
who are actively seeking communication with demons,— pagan religious life centers around the
quest to establish communications with this fallen corner of creation,— whereas a
missionary to post-Christian Europe would encounter fewer people who
actually want to be demon-possessed. While
modern-day Wiccans labor mightily to repopulate Europe with its
expelled and exiled demon inhabitants, they have not yet achieved
this goal. If the title page fell off the Indian missionary's notes
and the European, we might well figure the text which mentioned
demons more often belonged to the Indian missionary, because that's
where the demons are. Rome was where the demons were, their capital
city so to speak. It mattered to a Roman readership that Jesus triumphed
over the demons. While casting out demons is a legitimate concern of
Judaic religion, it is scarcely a central one, the region being too clean; in pagan regions where
solicitation of demon habitation was a central religious focus, it is
more to the point. Mark 'fits' with Rome, the only people ever to count two
Whichever of the two phrases the Lord actually said, the evangelists must have anticipated a problem
with their readership, who either did, or did not, count two cock crows.
If Mark had only mentioned one cock-crow, his Roman readers would have
thought the Lord meant that Peter would deny him thrice before the middle
of the night, that is to say almost immediately, which is not what He meant nor what happened: He meant before
the dawn. But if the other evangelists had raised the 'two cock-crow' scheme
to a readership unfamiliar with those two distinct times of night, they
might have misunderstood it to mean simple iterations, which is how Bart Ehrman misunderstands it.
There is one reality being pointed to: dawn, but
people are aiming two different pointers at it: 'cock-crow' and
When did the Romans start counting two cock-crows? To guess
wildly, perhaps when freight started moving through the city
of Rome at night? It must have made a frightful racket, waking up some
sleepers, both feathered and unfeathered. This is a case of people telling
time differently, not a contradiction. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
If Jesus was understood to have meant that Peter would deny Him
before first light, then the cock must crow twice, because the
Romans thought he crowed the first time in the very early morning,
well before first light.
The four watches were a military contrivance: "As it seemed
impossible for a sentinel to remain a whole night on his post, the
watches were divided by the hourglass into four parts, that each man
might stand only three hours." (Flavius Vegetus Renatus, The
Military Institutions of the Romans, Kindle location 980). The naturalist Pliny asserts that the cock crows every three hours, which
correlates, happily, with military practice:
"Next after the peacock, the animal that acts as our watchman by night,
and which Nature has produced for the purpose of arousing mortals to their
labors, and dispelling their slumbers, shows itself most actuated by feelings
of vanity. The cock knows how to distinguish the stars, and marks the different periods of the day, every three hours, by his note. These animals go to roost with the setting of the sun, and at the fourth watch of the camp recall man to his cares and toils. They do not allow the rising of the sun to creep upon us unawares, but by their note proclaim the coming day,
and they prelude their crowing by clapping their sides with their wings."
(Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 10.24)
It is difficult to fathom how the idea that the rooster crows every three
hours on the hour ever got established, insomuch as he does not. In Pliny's
way of reckoning, the only reason why day-break counts as the second cock-crow
rather than the fourth is that the Romans, as we do, started the new day
at midnight. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?: roosters respond to disturbance,
so when two companies of sentinels start in motion about the camp, one
retiring and one setting out, crowing will accompany this burst of activity,
even though humans, not birds, thumbed through the almanac to correlate
star risings and settings with the time of night. Like 'Clever Hans' the counting horse, the
birds may time their behavior by cues they are picking up from their busy
human neighbors, while meanwhile the humans are marvelling that the birds
know how to tell time.
For most of their sojourn together, humans and chickens
are symbionts. So long as the hens are laying, they need not fear a
violent end; that comes later. Today we do not expect to find chickens in a big city, but prior to
modern refrigeration, no hens meant no eggs. How they and their human protectors
coordinated their schedules in a city that never slept is unknown. Juvenal
complains there was so much road noise in Rome it was not possible
to sleep: "Here most of the sick die off because they get no sleep.
. .for what rented flat Allows you to sleep? Only rich men in this
city have that. There lies the root of the illness— carts rumbling in narrow streets—
And cursing drivers stalled in a traffic jam— it defeats All hope of
rest." (The Satires of Juvenal, Satire III, 232, pp. 57-58). This
noise pollution was compounded by the changing watch. Tacitus
speaks of an 'announcement' of the watch: "When the king continually
asked the reason of whatever he noticed which was new to him, the
announcements, for example, by a centurion of the beginning of each
watch, the dismissal of the guests by the sound of a trumpet, and the
lighting by a torch from beneath of an altar in front of the
headquarters, Corbulo, by exaggerating everything, filled him with
admiration of our ancient system." (Tacitus Annals, Book XV, Chapter
30). This 'announcement,' according to Renatus accompanied by trumpet, may have created a
self-fulfilling prophecy, waking these watchful birds: "All guards are
mounted by the sound of trumpet and relieved by the sound of
cornet." (Flavius Vegetus Renatus, The Military Institutions of the
Romans, Kindle location 980).
Crowing every three hours on the hour unprompted strains credulity past
the breaking point. However, given the farm-yard reality that roosters are
liable to crow at all hours of the day and night, there is an
element of convention in assigning times to the 'cock-crow,' or
multiple 'cock-crows.' In dealing with the two Roman 'cock-crows,' as
Pliny attests, we are dealing with two things: a conventional time-marker, not
any random 'cockle-doodle-do.' . .and a natural event, that sounds
like 'cockle-doodle-do.' Into the interval between these two, this
'Bible contradiction' falls.
If, for whatever reason, the Romans counted day-break as
the second cock-crow, then a writer who wishes a Roman readership to understand
'day-break' had better count two cock-crows along with them. If I count
hours from dawn, and you count them from midnight, or if I count two cock
crows and you count one, I will either have to explain my system to you
or adopt your system; otherwise we misunderstand one another. If I say
'let's meet at three,' but we count our hours differently, then we
will both turn up as no-shows: the other party will be left wondering what
happened. It is so easy to avoid this unwanted outcome: use
time-markers known to be familiar to the other party,— that
you wonder why the atheists will not allow it.
The fourth century pilgrim Aetheria continues to count an
interval between 'first cockcrow' and 'daylight,' as for instance in
her narrative of the events of Holy Week:
"And at the first cockcrow they come down from the
Imbomon with hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed,
as it is written in the Gospel: and He was withdrawn (from them)
about a stone's cast, and prayed, and the rest. There is in that
place a graceful church. The bishop and all the people enter, a
prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one
suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where He said
to His disciples: Watch, that ye enter not into temptation; the
whole passage is read through and prayer is made. And then all, even
to the smallest child, go down with the Bishop, on foot, with hymns
to Gethsemane; where, on account of the great number of people in
the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak through the
daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they
come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. And over two hundred
church candles are made ready to give light to all the people. .
.From that hour they go with hymns to the city on foot, reaching the
gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognize
another, and thence right on through the midst of the city; all, to
a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are ready there, for
on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until
morning. Thus the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane to the gate,
and thence through the whole of the city to the Cross. And when they
arrive before the Cross the daylight is already growing bright."
(The Pilgrimage of Aetheria, M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and
trans., pp. 71-73).
The events between Aetheria's "first cockcrow"and
"daylight," involving processions of large numbers of people
celebrating Holy Week in Jerusalem, must have taken several hours to
complete at a minimum. Another reference suggesting a gap between 'first
cockcrow' and dawn:
"On the ensuing days everything is done as during the whole year, that is, vigil is kept in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow. And if it be the Lord's Day, at the earliest cockcrow the bishop first reads in the Anastasis, as is customary, the passage from the Gospel concerning the Resurrection, which is always read on the Lord's Day, and then afterwards hymns and antiphons are said in the Anastasis until daylight. But if it be not the Lord's Day, only hymns and antiphons are said in like manner in the Anastasis from the first cockcrow until daylight.
. . The clergy go there at first cockcrow, but the bishop always as it begins to dawn, that the morning dismissal may be made with all the clergy present except on the Lord's Day, when (the bishop) has to go at the first cockcrow, that he may read the Gospel in the Anastasis."
(The Pilgrimage of Aetheria, M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and
trans., p. 89).
The Apostolic Constitutions mention the "cock-crowing of the night,"
without explanation: "Do ye who are able fast the day of
preparation and the Sabbath-day entirely, tasting nothing till the
cock-crowing of the night. . ." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 5,
Section 3, Chapter XXVIII, p. 889). If a conventional middle-of-the-night
time-frame is intended in any of these references, a gravitational pull
must be expected to be exerted toward the 'natural' cock-crow of dawn,
because that is when most of humanity say that the cock crows. Because the rooster starts crowing at first light, before the disk of the sun rises above the horizon, when 'rosy-fingered dawn' first comes on the scene, some people in antiquity thought him possessed of prophetic powers. He is a harbinger of sun-rise, not its herald. Weighty decisions of the Roman state were made on the basis of which way the chickens were scratching, a really bad idea, as the level-headed Cicero realized.
"Do you really believe that Jupiter would have employed chickens to convey such a message to so great a state?...But
come; is there any time, day or night, when they are not liable to crow?...By
the way, Democritus gives a very good explanation of why cocks crow before day. 'Their
food,' he says, 'after it has been digested, is expelled from the craw
and is distributed over the entire body. By the time that process is
completed they have had sleep enough and begin to crow.' And then, 'in
the silence of the night,' as Ennius says, 'they indulge their russet throats in song and beat
their flapping wings.' In view, then, of the fact that this creature is
prone to crow of its own volition at any time, and may be made to crow
either by nature or by chance, how did it ever occur to Callisthenes to say that the gods conveyed prophecies to men by the crowing of cocks? (Cicero, On Divination, Book II, 26)
It may be that in this oft-quoted passage the Latin Ennius, and
Cicero in citation, is in fact referring to the first cock crow rather than the second, the
'civic' rather than the 'natural' cock-crow. The reason for
the second cock-crow is self-explanatory: the gathering light wakes the
birds up. What requires explanation is why they crow "in the silence
of the night," though Democritus may only have been thinking of the very
brief period during which the day-proclaiming roosters serve as
harbingers of the dawn.
Plutarch also possibly mentions the first
cock-crow. Around midnight of his last day on earth, Cato had called
for his physician and his steward, and after they performed a few
chores for him, we hear that, "And now the birds were beginning to
sing, and he sank asleep again for a while. When Butas had returned
and reported that all was quiet about the ports, Cato, bidding him
close the door, threw himself on the bed as if he were going to
sleep for the rest of the night." (Plutarch's Lives, Life of Cato,
Chapter LXX). If the "birds," presumably domestic fowl, were
heralding the dawn, then what "rest of the night" could he have
slept, if he had not instead committed suicide?
The author of the 'Recognitions of Clement,' whoever he was, was
aware that the 'first cock-crow' was not the first light of dawn, but earlier in